The Seattle area has been abuzz with memories and tributes to Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus in the days since he died. Rather than tell some stories about the man who defines the franchise, I thought I’d try to gather up some of his quotes on baseball and broadcasting in the time before the Mariners became a hot product in the Northwest. Niehaus’s quotes here come from Seattle newspaper articles from 1986, when the team was still struggling toward mediocrity, and 1994, when its games were canceled by strike.
“I literally become a member of your family, hopefully, for six months out of the year.”
“In 1977, I had a common home-run call – it’s gone or something. J Michael Kenyon from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I were in Arizona, the radio was on and some group was singing, ‘It will fly away.’ I said that is exactly what a baseball does. I used it and it took off like wildfire.”
“The biggest mistake this organization ever made, to my way of thinking, was when they fired Lou Gorman. Or maybe the worst thing that ever happened to this franchise was when they hired Kip Horsburgh. They kind of go hand in glove.”
“The Wills regime was just a nightmare, an absolute nightmare, from start to finish. Some of the things he did. I expected more of a baseball man like that, and I felt sorry for Maury Wills.”
On the Mariners’ first game in 1977: “There was just incredible excitement. Anticipation. A new baby. Hopes. I was nervous. The fans were so happy. I’ll never forget that night as long as I live.”
On hopes for 1986: “We could contend. I really think we could. ‘If’ is the biggest small word in the English language, but if you stay healthy, and if the guys have the kind of years that they can have, the potential is there. And potential means you really haven’t done anything yet. I’ve been talking about potential for nine years, and I’m getting tired of it.”
Also: “I’ll die in the booth. I’ve told lots of people that if I die-not if I die but when I die-I’m sure it’s going to be either on an airplane or sitting in a booth and I’ll have a heart attack calling a home run.
“When it happens, I want to be cremated and have my ashes put under home plate at Fenway Park in Boston.”
“The worst thing you can do is emulate somebody else. You have to develop your own style. I’m not a fan of radio and TV broadcast schools. I say get a liberal education and know something about the world around you.”
“This is a baseball town. The fans don’t owe the Mariners anything. The Mariners owe the fans a winning season.”
“Baseball is a radio game. On TV you’re just a director – and half the time the camera doesn’t show what you want.”
“The Kingdome is not a ballpark. There are no elements, no effect on the baseball. At Fenway, you can see the grass grow on some days. Fenway smells, you can see Ted Williams, Babe Ruth playing there. I darn near genuflect when I walk through the gates at Fenway Park.”
“The game itself is enough for me. If you are a real baseball fan, the film clips and the sonic boom or whatever it is, I think it gets on your nerves. It does on my nerves. But I also understand that this is 1994 and not 1974. But to the real fan, it is a pain in the neck, too much noise.”
On the end of major league baseball in 1994 because of the recently started strike: “Do I miss it? God, yes. The last 10 days of the season, I couldn’t wait to get to the park. The team was playing great. I really believe they’d have won the division.
“The first pennant race in franchise history. People were getting pumped, and I’d have turned this town on in September. Of course, the crime was there would have been no place for the fans here to have come to see the team – except on television. They sure weren’t going to be able to play here.
“I felt for a guy like Goose Gossage. It shouldn’t end this way for a class man like Goose, and he had tears in his eyes that night. It reminded me of the September this team finally clinched a .500 season – players like Alvin Davis and Dave Valle were crying.
“Those were tears of happiness. These weren’t.”
His goal as a broadcaster: “To do a World Series and have the Seattle Mariners win it. Not only one, but two or three or four. I would like to get the chance to really turn on this town in September.”
I’ll close this remembrance with excerpts from an Emmett Watson column in the Seattle Times in late August 1985:
“How’re your ratings?” I asked Niehaus. With a pleased look on his rather cherubic face, Dave pulled out a sheet of figures. In 1984, they showed, Niehaus’ KVI ratings were frequently almost double that of KIRO. When KIRO got the Mariner broadcasting contract this season, the results were almost unbelievable.
Dave’s (and KIRO’s) ratings had more than quadrupled. Through the evening hours of Mariner baseball, from 6-7 p.m. and on through 10-11 p.m., the hourly average audience showed Niehaus with numbers like 43,000 on KIRO to some 6,000 for KVI.
Earlier, I said that Dave Niehaus was one of the four or five best sports announcers in America. That is perhaps only a slight exaggeration: Sport Magazine picked him fourth best nationally among 26 major-league broadcasters in a recent story that rated both mike proficiency and productions of baseball broadcasts. A recent Bellevue Journal-American piece rated Niehaus best among the Northwest announcers, ahead of Bob Blackburn (Sonics), Pete Gross (Seahawk football) and Bob Rondeau (Husky football). . . .
Except for Fred and Henry Genzele, the two clubhouse men, Dave is the last of the original Mariners. Since the team first took the field in 1977, Niehaus has outlasted owners, managers, players, coaches, officials, scouts-everybody ever connected with the baby franchise.
In a sense, Dave’s first job here was to get the fans de-Lassenized, so to speak. Everybody compared him to Leo the Great, whose broadcasting heyday was in the ’30, ’40s and ’50s. In his long reign, Leo literally “raised” three generations of baseball fans, who were hooked on him. By next season-Dave’s 10th-he’ll have his own generation of followers.
Unlike Leo’s high-pitched intonations, Dave’s voice is a beauty. He has constantly improved his work, trying to avoid the “homer” stamp, and he experiments with shading and register to lend an air of low-keyed excitement to a game.
“You can almost chant a game,” he says.
He also has another weapon in his arsenal, one that Leo Lassen never had. In front of Dave and his broadcasting partner, Rick Rizzs, are two TV monitors, part of the Mariners’ in-house channel. Disputed or difficult plays can be shown many times, and Dave frequently knows more about a single play than any umpire or player on the field.
In his professional lifetime, Dave has broadcast pro football and basketball, college and pro, and even hockey. He works on a personal service contract to Mariner owner George Argyros, one which prevents him from broadcasting sports other than Mariner baseball. He has done boxing in Los Angeles and once, to his consternation, he found himself announcing a New York Rangers-Montreal hockey game for Armed Forces Radio.
“It was the first hockey game I’d ever seen,” he grins. “I didn’t know a blue line from a face-off, so I went to the New York public library and studied up on the game. The broadcast was a disaster. I sure hope nobody kept a tape of it.”
As his popularity on the Mariner network increases, Dave hears the fans talk less and less about Leo Lassen. He is his own man with his own style and his own “fly away” signature. He is beginning to hear the ultimate tribute any announcer can have: “I’d rather stay home and listen to you than go to the games.”
“It’s nice to hear that,” he says, “but that’s not what I want to happen. I tell ’em to come to the games anyway and bring their own radios.”